Technology

Mobile Tracking In Maryland

Cell Phone Tracking In Maryland Debate

One of the most debated topics among privacy advocates lately has been mobile phone tracking and how police are monitoring civilian cell phone locational data without first establishing probable cause. Although the practice of acquiring locational data from cell phones using GPS tracking data has been commonplace among many law enforcement agencies the problem is that police haven’t had to get a warrant in order to conduct this form of surveillance. This has caused many people to believe that the mobile tracking practice violates the Fourth Amendment rights of those who are under surveillance. Understanding of the controversy, the Maryland House Judiciary Committee is now looking at drafting a bill allowing police to gather locational data from mobile communication systems without first establishing probable cause or obtaining a search warrant, but is this the right move?

After years of controversy surrounding the law enforcement use of GPS trackers to conduct surveillance on criminal suspects the Supreme Court of the United States voted in a 5-4 decision that police must first get a warrant before using any piece of GPS tracking technology. However, the game-changing ruling did not address the accessing of real-time locational data and records through cellular devices. That means police could still access locational data through cellular devices without warrant or establishing probable cause, a practice that has frequently occurred in cities throughout Maryland including Baltimore and is only trending upward. Cell phones are a treasure trove of data, recording vast amounts of information people may not even be aware. One of those pieces of information is locational data. This is done through cellular triangulation and the GPS tracking components built into the hardware of mobile communication devices. Basically, cell phones are always tracking everywhere a person goes and storing that locational data. The problem is that the comprehensive log of an individual’s locational information should logically be guarded under the Fourth Amendment rights bestowed on every American. Sadly, this is not the case right now because the Supreme Court has not ruled on this variation of electronics tracking. Currently, the majority of Americans do not agree with policies that allow the government or law enforcement to spy on civilians without just cause or legal documentation showing probable cause. This is the reason that civil rights organizations such as the ACLU oppose Maryland bill HB377. This is because even though proponents of the bill can state that it will assist law enforcement in cases where for example a person is reported missing or child is abducted the actual language of HB377 would give law enforcement an avenue to monitor people for any reason with almost zero oversight and that is the slippery slope of concern. Should cellular phone users in Maryland be concerned about HB377 violating their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment?

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